Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Still Life with Shape-shifter

Still Life with Shape-shifter  by Sharon Shinn

Melanie has been keeping her half-sister Ann's secret since they were both young children:  Ann is a shape-shifter who periodically takes the shape of a white dog.  When investigative reporter Brody Westerbrook asks to interview them both, Melanie automatically refuses...but Ann does not.  Gradually, Brody's life becomes intertwined with the lives of the sisters, and gradually the secret is shared with a few more people.  But when Ann's poor health seems to be overwhelming her, they must reach out to the only stranger who might be able to help.

Gentle themes of love, loyalty, grief, and friendship draw readers deeply into the story. The first-person perspective changes narrators throughout the book, and at first the connection between characters is confusing, but the author carefully interweaves the tales so that by the final page, the story is completely cohesive and it all makes sense.

This book is written and marketed for adults, but teen readers fascinated by magic and non-traditional shapeshifters will enjoy the story. 

Minor cussing, minor violence (including some parental bullying) and off-page sexual situations.  This book is part two of a shape-shifter trilogy, but stands alone nicely.  Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.

The Brides of Rollrock Island

The Brides of Rollrock Island  by Margo Lanagan

Misskaella Prout is ugly and outcast, unloved by her family, mocked by the women and rejected by the men of Rollrock Island. 

Though she has a magical talent to pull selkies from out of their seal-skins and into human shape, she does not stop with merely conjuring a lover for herself.  Instead, Misskaella also creates a deep and complex revenge against the island people by providing--for a price--a beautiful seal-wife for each man on the island.  Enchanted by the fey sea-wives, the men abandon their human families, mortgage their wealth, and deny that their lives are anything but wonderful.  The selkie women are helpless without their seal-skins...but when their sons steal back the coats, life on the island changes dramatically once again.

A complex and beautifully written story of hatred, love, magic, revenge, and eventually, redemption.  No cussing, minimal violence, and some on-page sexual situations between humans and selkies in (mostly) human form.  Highly recommended, ages 14 to adult.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Viva Jacquelina!

Viva Jacquelina! by L.A. Meyer
The irrepressible Jacky Faber is pressed into service yet again for British Intelligence...this time, in Spain and Portugal.  She charms her way into the household of the artist Francisco Goya, participates in the running of the bulls, and collects secret information during trips to the palace in Madrid. 
But when the Spanish Inquisition shows up (who expected THAT?!), Jacky hits the road again, cavorting with Romani (gypsies) as she heads towards the relative safety of the harbor in Gibralter.  And from there...well, that will be the next book!
Fans of the series will love Jacky's typical madcap adventures as she rubs shoulders with famous figures from history and literature.  Some cussing, some bloodshed, and a few sexual close-calls.  I look forward to hearing the audiobook version, recorded as always by Katherine Kellgren.   Recommended ages 13 to adult. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Snow in Summer

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen
As a young child with hair black as ebony, skin fair as snow and lips red as blood, Summer leads a fairy tale life: her mother is beautiful, her father is the king of the garden, and all is well.  But when her mother dies in childbirth, Summer learns about living the middle part of a fairy tale, the part of the story where the wicked stepmother moves in and the young girl runs away to the forest to find safety with a bunch of little men.

Set in Appalachia in the 1930's, Jane Yolen recasts not just the "Sleeping Beauty" story but several other classic Grimm tales as well, with a fresh voice and an intriguing cast. 

No cussing (the word "witch" is noted as a side-step for another word involving mama dogs) and no sex (although Hunter clearly intends to have his wicked way with Summer before carving out her heart), and only a bit of blood...but there are several very poisonous snakes to watch for.

Recommended for ages 10 to adult.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Okeksyk, Sarah. Ivy.  (graphic novel)
Ivy is a talented high school artist growing up in a small town in Maine.  Her mom wants her to study business at a local college, but Ivy wants to study far away from her hometown as possible.  Her emotional roller coaster sometimes derails Ivy's good intentions, but gradually she works towards creating her own kind of freedom.

Although Ivy was published in 2011, one gets the feeling that it is set in a much earlier time.  She exchanges hand-written letters with her long-distance boyfriend, and they call each other on land-line telephones (the kind with cords!).  Still, the emotional journey towards adulthood is universally uncomfortable, and the story is well-drawn and well-told.  This graphic novel features on-page sex (tactful, but unmistakable), drug use and under-age drinking as well as lots of cussing and depictions of some seriously dysfunctional families.  Ivy is not a happy story, but the end promises just a bit of hope for the future.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Wonder Show


The Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby
The year is 1939.  14-year-old Portia Remini was abandoned by her family at McGreavey's Home for Wayward Girls, but she runs away when her best friend dies tragically.  Through a series of accidents and coincidences, Portia ends up working as a cook in Mosco's Traveling Wonder Show.  There, Portia meets and befriends the Wild Albinos, the Fat Lady, the Bearded Lady, the Strong Man and the other freaks, and tries to find her own place among them while looking for the father who has been missing for many years.
Circus and sideshow history and jargon intermingle with the tale of a girl who collects stories and seeks the truth among people whose livelihoods depend on falsehood and misdirection.  Some cussing.  No kissing or sex, but there are tactful descriptions of the "blowoff" part of the show where the conjoined twins dance naked for a crowd of rubes.
Ages 12 to 18.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You

Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You by  Joyce Carol Oates

Merissa, Hannah, Nadia, Chloe and (Katrina) Tink have been best friends at their very exclusive high school.  Tink is the leader, even to the extent that they call themselves Tink Inc.  Everyone is intimidated by Tink, a former child actress, who says and does outrageous things.  But as seniors, the group needs to carry on without Tink because she committed suicide.  

The story is told in three parts:  first from Merissa- the perfect one, the one who was accepted early by Brown University;  the new lead in the school play; the one whose family is falling apart; the one who cuts herself to have enough pain to forget the rest.  

The middle section features Tink, multi-talented, charming, exasperating, enigmatic; now gone, with some of her secrets.  

Nadia is the last voice, a girl who is now called the school slut because of an incident when her drink was altered. Nadia now fixates on her science teacher as her savior.  To all the girls in her inner circle, Tink is still present- they have dreams about her, wonder how she would handle a situation, even hear whispers from her.  These characters will stay with you long after you finish the novel.

We are left wondering about many peripheral characters who are intriguing but dropped:  Colin, who acts like he has deep problems; Virgil, the science geek from Budapest.  Even Chloe, one of Tink’s inner circle, is poorly fleshed out.

And there are still perhaps two or three things I forgot to put in the review….

For mature 14 up

Friday, September 21, 2012

Carter's Unfocused One-Track Mind

Carter’s Unfocused One-Track Mind by Brent Crawford

Will Carter is now a sophomore, buffing out through football, thinking about a theater school in New York City, and still hoping for sex with Abby.  Will took Amber to the Homecoming Dance, to make Abby jealous; however, Amber ditched Will, hooked up with Rusty, and became pregnant.  

Sophomore boys are mystified with Amber’s pregnancy.  Will says, “We’re just not cool enough to deal with the …baby situation, I think.  We’re just like really focused on sex, you know?  Like all the time… “   Will and his “boys” also join what seems like an unsupervised party every weekend, create a “fight club” with one pair of gloves (and one pair of ski gloves), go camping and start a major fire, and generally have more adventures than any ten average fifteen year olds.  

Realistic?  Not a chance.  

Laugh-out-loud funny?  You will be laughing so hard you will need to stop reading to wipe away the tears.  

Even after you put the book down, you will be visualizing a bathroom floor full of pee, feces, vomit, and Will slipping across the bathroom floor, getting puke even in his ear. Third in the series. 

Ages 14 and up;
cussing, kissing, pregnancy, Star Trek Sex. 

Monday, September 10, 2012


Americus  written by M.K. Reed, drawn by Jonathan Hill
8th-graders Neil and Daniel would rather read books in their favorite fantasy series The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde than pay attention to their gossipy classmates or the adults in their small town of Americus. 
However, Daniel's mom is convinced that Apathea is the work of the devil and sends her son away to military school, leaving Neil alone to defend his favorite book.  However, it turns out that Neil isn't alone in loving the book....
Here is a great graphic novel depicting terrific friendships inspired by books.  Following the example of the main character in Apathea, Neil learns to stand up to bullies on behalf of other book-lovers, gains the confidence of classmates and the local library staff, and even starts a new romance with a fellow-bookworm.  Three cheers!
Highly recommended for readers ages 12 to adult.  No sex or cussing; there are depictions of bullying and some rather ugly adult behaviors towards books, children, and other adults.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cat Girl's Day Off

Cat Girl's Day Off  by Kimberly Pauley

Natalie Ng's two sisters have "Class A Talents": Emmy is a chameleon, able to blend in perfectly with her surroundings.  Viv has X-ray vision and the gift of truth divination.

All Natalie can do is talk to cats.

Nat considers her Talent more of an embarrassment than a gift.  She has sworn her family and best friends to secrecy about the nature of her ability rather than face the shame of being known at school as "Cat Girl."  And yet, it is Natalie's unusual aptitude that leads her into a crime-fighting adventure complicated by a movie film crew and cast intent on re-making Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Funny and fluffy, this breezy read will appeal to girls who like a little bit of humor and magic or fantasy mixed into normal high school romance stories. The talking cats almost entirely steal the second half of the book. 

No cussing, no sex, some kissing, a few threats of violence from the Talented villain.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lies Beneath

Lies Beneath  by Anne Greenwood Brown 
Delacorte Press  2012

“ I hadn’t killed anyone all winter, and I have to say I felt pretty good about that.” 

GREAT first line!  Calder is a merman, with three mermaid sisters- all very real monsters who feed off the happiness that exudes as an aura on others.  Unfortunately, these innocent swimmers are killed in the process. 

Calder's family is out to avenge their mother who was snared in a fisherman’s net after failing to acquire the son demanded as retribution for saving the father.  Yes, confusing.   In the mer-world, a promise is all-important. 

With many twists and turns, Calder and his sisters pursue the father and the family, now grown with daughters of their own.  In the midst of revenge, Calder falls in love with Lily, the sixteen year old daughter, and the world changes.

This is not Disney’s Ariel.  These are killers, exacting revenge in a blood oath.  Somewhat reminiscent of vampires, these mer-folk pull all readers under in a trance turning to terror.  The killer (pun intended) ending leads to the sequel that we knew (hoped?) was coming-
but not until March 2013.

Kissing; some violence  13 up.

There Is No Dog

There is No Dog  by Meg Rosoff
Putnam 2011

When philosophers have theorized about God, whether man was created in God’s image or what that entity could look like, they never saw God as a horny teenager--a teen who loves junk food and is constantly pouting. 

Yet, this is Bob, who created the heavens and the earth and all its species.  And then forgets it, allowing wars and natural disasters just through a normal teen’s thoughtlessness.  And who has constantly fallen “in love.” Some of the love interests, mentioned in passing, were taken from the Greek gods and therefore recognizable.

Now meet Lucy, a zoo worker who Bob has newly discovered.  A no-nonsense kind of girl who loves her job, Lucy has little time for Bob when she meets him, and although drawn to him in a way she can’t understand, initially rejects him.  As Bob is upset, so are the natural forces on earth, and we experience torrential rains, floods, mixed with inexplicable days of gorgeous sun when Bob is more hopeful.

Since the job of being God was won in a poker game, Bob now needs an assistant.  Mr. B.  does all the mundane tasks of “the job,” such as answering prayers and taking care of Bob, whom he sees as “devoid of discipline, compassion and emotional depth.  Foresight…the boy was obviously thick as a divot, and if there hadn’t been a push from someone with a bit of influence, he’d still be out in the middle of the great galactic nothingness sleeping, probably, or picking his nose.”

 That pretty much sums up all the characters in the novel. Even Mr. B’s constant complaining becomes tiresome.  When Estelle, a goddess, begins planning to change things, the plan is fuzzy and does not draw our attention.  Funny, even laugh out loud funny at times, at times very irreverent, but ultimately forgettable. 

We will not “stay up all night worrying about the existence of dog.”

When You Were Mine

When you were mine  by Rebecca Serle 
Simon Pulse 2012

Rosie (Rosalind) Caplet and her best friends  Olivia and Charlie (Charlotte) are entering their senior year.  They are rich, spoiled, and ready to be on top of the school social strata.  In addition, Rosie knows that she and Rob Monteg will finally become more than just

Rob does return from summer camp to tell Rosie that he too feels they were meant to be- that is, until her cousin Juliet arrives and so easily captivates Rob.  This is the part where I ask if the story seems familiar; but it doesn’t.  The story is purported to be a retelling of Romeo (“Monteg”) and Juliet (“Caplet”), told from the point of view of Rosalind Caplet. As we look for the references that link this with the Shakespearian story, we find that we have little in common with these rich, spoiled Southern California kids.  We do look forward to seeing the ever-in-trouble Len, who lends comic relief and a quirky personality (personality being the factor lacking in the other two-dimensional characters).

The idea of using Rosalind as the narrator is a nice plot device, and Rose evolves in the second half as a character we can care about, even though she rambles on and on when she is remembering some incident(s) from childhood (filler for the author?)

The mystery of the family estrangement adds an interesting dimension.   A quick, light, summer read with a little romance thrown in.

Kissing; references to suicide; 12 up.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ready Player One

Ready Player One  by Ernest Cline

The year is 2044 and 18-year-old Wade Watts, like almost everyone else in the world, regularly escapes from grim reality to spend most of his waking time in OASIS, the online community that has grown up from early beginnings as a network of online video simulation games.  Wade is a "gunter", a game player dedicated to locating the elusive "Easter Egg" hidden somewhere in the nearly-infinite OASIS.  The creator of OASIS was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980's, and left hundreds of clues for gunters hidden within 1980's movies, books, music, television shows and even commercials  The first to find the Egg will inherit a fortune in cash and controlling interest in the OASIS.  Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous bad guys who don't mind cheating--or even killing--to win the Egg.

Anyone who has ever gotten immersed in a book, a movie, a video game, or a face-to-face session of Dungeons and Dragons will relate to Wade's experience in OASIS.  Anyone who can recite the entire script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail,  knows every line ever spoken on Star Trek (original series and/or any of the prequel/sequel/spin-off series), played PacMan or Joust for uncounted hours, or who ever rolled for damage to an imaginary monster will revel in the retro-geekiness of the narrative.  Anyone who wants a fun, action-filled dystopian adventure is advised to hide this book from family members who might grab it for themselves and demand a roll of the dice to determine ownership (as happened to this reviewer).

Comic book violence and some off-stage "real world" violence, cussing, and two paragraphs of non-graphic virtual sex with an ultimately unsatisfactory anatomically-correct haptic doll, plus some awesome friendships and a sweet romance.

Highly recommended for readers ages 14 to adult, maybe especially for adults who were teens in the 1980's...but since this book was given to me by a 16-year-old boy, I must recommend it also for those who weren't even a naughty notion in the 1980's.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses

Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses  by Ron Koertge
illustrated by Andrea Dezso

...For a while, the queen is content.  There's the baby
with skin like snow and the golden goblets
and the pomegranate juice and the rocking
and the cooing.  But there's always that small fire
just under her collarbone.

She summons the hunters, hard men with callused hands.
She asks, "Isn't there a wolf in the forest with teeth
the better to eat me with?"
"Indeed there is, your majesty, but--"
"No buts.  Have someone fetch my red cape.
And tell the king not to wait up."

The little match girl sells CDs on the corner, fifty cents to any stoner/any homeboy with a boner.   The Beast muses that he and Beauty are very happy now, but that sometimes he brushes his perfect teeth and remembers when they were fangs. And Bluebeard's wife agrees that her husband is weird...but omigod that castle!

Twenty three familiar stories.  Folktales originally collected and retold by the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Anderson are collected and retold again by Ron Koertge...and this time, the stories are tilted a little differently.  

Strong, sexy, sassy, violent, warped, and more than slightly kinky, these tales-in-verse are not the Disney version.  There isn't always "happy", but without doubt, these versions will stick with the reader "forever after." 

With the new attention being given to old tales on television programs like Grimm and Once Upon a Time, this slender volume of fractured tales and striking illustrations will easily find an audience.  Recommended for readers 14 to adult.

Minor cussing, sexual imagery and sexual situations, references to violence...just like the original folktales from which they were derived.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Hooked  by Catherine Greenman

Thea considers herself savvy and spunky, but she throws all that away when she starts dating Will, who "hooks" her with his good looks and charm.  Their love is strong, the sex is fantastic...and then, Thea gets pregnant.  The early-abortion plan (endorsed by parents, friends, and Will) is abandoned when Thea discovers that she loves her unborn child too much for abortion or adoption.  Plan #2 centers on everyone supporting Thea and baby Ian (and Will too), physically, emotionally and financially.  There is a bit of squeaking about this, but eventually, everyone falls in line because they love Thea and the baby is adorable.   Thea's plans for the future include spending more time with her formerly-estranged dad, making bundles of money by designing the latest crochet fashion merchendise, and eventually getting back together with Will.

Realistic?  Uh, no. 

Maybe that's how folks do things in The Big City, but in my small town, parents of unwed parents don't hand over $10,000 (each!) as starter money on top of the rent-controlled apartment they finance for the teens and little Ian.  Thea's narrative voice rescues this story from the round file:  she is spunky, and she stands up for the ideas and the people she values, including herself. 

Not a first purchase, but don't overlook this title if budgets can support it.  There is on-page (but not graphic) sex, minor cussing, and some underage drinking, but nowhere near as gratuitous as Gossip Girl and that ilk.  Ages 14 and up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Between  by Jessica Warman
When pretty, popular, wealthy Elizabeth Valchar wakes up on the morning of her 18th birthday, she's dead.

Nobody knows exactly what happened, including Liz herself, who is stuck "between" life and death, haunting her hometown, her friends and her family, seeking answers.  The only person who can see Liz is Alex...and he's dead too.

The narrative gradually unwinds clue after tiny clue, drawing the reader deeper into the complex life of a pretty girl who apparently had it all.  Liz is not a sympathetic character, especially at first.  Yet, as the story delves deeper into the past, Liz  learns that her life was not as perfect as she thought it was...and that her accidental death on the family yacht might not have been an accident.

The mystery is not perfect--astute readers will figure out the connection between Liz and Alex long before Liz understands it--and there are a few plot holes.  However, the storytelling itself is entrancing.  

Mild cussing, sexual situations, underage drinking and drug use.  Recommended for readers 14 to adult. 

This is Aarene's review.  To review Mary Jo's review of Between, click HERE.

A fun sex-in-the-library music video, NOTsafe for work!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Between  by Jessica Warman

Elizabeth Valchar is one of the1%.  She is very wealthy, has a great rich boyfriend, and of course, she's very popular.  She even has her 18th birthday party on the family’s yacht, waking up after midnight having
had too much alcohol and marijuana.  As she stumbles around the deck to identify the source of the noise that woke her, Liz notices a dead body floating in the water...wearing the clothes she now has on; with
the hugely expensive boots she had to have. 

The only person who can see and talk to her is Alex, a kid from her class who died a year ago.   Liz doesn’t remember much of the last year of her life, let alone the last night of her life.  Thus begins Liz and Alex’ journey to discover who they really are as events materialize surrounding both deaths.

While a few of the characters are two dimensional, there is much to discover (and develop opinions) about Liz’s friends. The novel veers close to being “Peyton Place,” but there is also a depth of character that brings us closer to understanding the individuals, and exposes our own reader prejudices even as stereotypes of Liz and her friends are exposed.

Kissing; sexual situations; some violence.  13 up.

This is Mary Jo's review.  To review Aarene's review of Between, click HERE.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Bumped  by Megan McCafferty
In this up-tempo dystopian novel, teen pregnancies are not only normal, they are vital.

A virus renders everyone over the age of 18 infertile, making teen pregnancy essential for the survival of humanity. Humanity has responded to the crisis by dumping societal norms upside-down, and now pregnant teens and pre-teens are considered the apex of beauty and the center of importance.  Children and pre-adolescents play at "bumping", young girls wear "MyTurn Tees" and and Preggerz FunBumps (with real skinfeel and in-uterobic activity!), and 16-year-old twins Melody and Harmony have only two years remaining until obsolesence. 

Melody is a contracted pro-pregger, who has signed with an agent to produce a very expensive delivery that will pay for a top-notch college as well as her adoptive parents' debts.  Harmony, raised in a conservative Amish-esque community, has run away from her adoptive family to bring her newly-found twin into a state of grace with God.

Absolutely nothing goes as planned.

The twins trade the narration back-and-forth as the situation gets increasingly complicated.  Fun slang and the twist on cultural values almost mask important messages about teen sexuality, sibling rivalry, religious tolerance, and the difficulty of living a life different from the life that parents and society expect.

Lots of talk about sex and sexual situations, but nothing happens on the page. Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult. This book would be interesting to discuss and contrast to Libba Bray's Beauty Queens.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Half-Life of Planets

The Half-Life of Planets  by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin

"I am not a slut," says Lianna in the opening line of this dual-narrator novel. 

Lianna doesn't ever go farther than kissing with boys, but she has kissed a lot of boys.  Does that make her promiscuous?  She isn't sure.  To answer the question, Lianna embarks on a self-imposed scientific inquiry: to see what changes in her life when she focuses her attention on her summer research project and refrains from kissing boys.  Then, she meets Hank.

Hank has never kissed a girl, but he would really like to try it--and when he meets Lianna, who doesn't seem freaked out by his atypical interest in (and continual babble about) music, he thinks that he would like to kiss her.  Hank, however, has a very typical Asperger's Syndrome inability to read social cues, and so he isn't sure if Lianna wants to kiss him.  Intellectually, he has learned the meanings of conversation gambits and body language, but the details remain mysterious to him.

The narrator perspective bounces between Lianna and Hank, giving readers insight into both characters...and an opportunity to laugh more than once at each of the interactions between them. 

This is a fun summer book for readers who enjoy snappy conversations and rock-and-roll trivia, with lots of humor and a tear or two.  No sex, no violence; a few kisses, minimal cussing, and references to off-page masturbation.  Recommended for ages 14 to adult.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Hemlock  by Kathleen Peacock

Mackenzie (Mac) has always had three best friends: Amy and Jason are a couple and the richest kids in town.  Kyle rounds out the foursome, and while he and Mac are not a couple, they both have had thoughts in that direction.  Then Amy is killed by a werewolf.  Since her father is the state senator, he brings in a mercenary army to track and kill the werewolf- and find and trap any other werewolf-citizens. 

In fact, before his daughter was killed, the senator was of the opinion that werewolves could live safely among us.  Jason, however, is  totally devastated and joins the mercenaries, getting the first level tattoo and spouting the “party line” all the way.  Mac, despondent over her best friend, and fearful of the way Jason is acting, sets out to find the killer herself, finding many surprises in a town of many werewolves hiding now to save their lives. Amy keeps appearing to Mac to help her, first in her dreams, then while she is awake. 

Is no one telling the truth in the entire town?  With lots of plot twists and at least two sequels planned, we are in for more surprises.

Kissing, longing, some violence.  13 up.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

For the Win

For the Win  by Cory Doctorow
audiobook read by George Newbern
All over the world, kids play video games...for money.  

They don't make much money, of course.  Their bosses make most of the money, selling virtual treasure--magic swords, talking mushrooms, and virtual gold--to rich gamers who are too lazy to play the games and earn treasure for themselves.  Virtual economies are big business...which is why the mysterious woman called Big Sister Nor is determined to organize the sweatshop virtual workers of the world into a real-life union.
Doctorow has written about an uninteresting topic with such riveting action that I found myself deeply immersed in the tale.  Embedded in the story of the Webblies are mini-lectures about economics, politics, and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), which somehow, miraculously, are fascinating rather than boring. 
The audiobook read by George Newbern was so captivating that I found myself volunteering to drive anywhere, preferably somewhere far away, so that I could spend more time in my truck with the characters in the book.
Highly recommended to readers who love gaming...and also to readers who don't love gaming but do love a good story.  Ages 12 to adult; off-page sex, some violence, some cussing (in several languages). 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Jumping Off Swings

Jumping Off Swings  by Jo Knowles

Every time Ellie hooks up with a new guy, she's sure that there will be more to the encounter than sex, and that she will finally feel loved.  But the "one-time thing" with eager virgin Josh gets much more complicated when Ellie gets pregnant. 

The events of nine months after that fateful night in Josh's van are told by four narrators:  Ellie and Josh, plus their friends Corinne and Caleb, who live complicated lives of their own.  Their voices are mostly realistic, although the situations often seems straight out of an "afterschool special." 

With repetitive writing (I got tired of reading the word "empty") and mostly-predictable characters, this book is no classic, but readers looking for an emotional problem-novel with minimal cussing will find Jumping Off Swings engaging enough.

The "condom slipping off" situation that causes the pregnancy seems vaguely plausible.Sexual situations are described in flashback sentences, without graphic details, and childbirth is treated with similar distance: Ellie repeats the phrase "it hurts so much" frequently until she is sedated for the caesarean-section birth. Adult characters are flawed, but the reader understands that most of the parents really do love their teen offspring, even if they lack the ability to express their love openly.

On-page sexual situations, mild cussing, underage drinking and partying.  Readers 14 and up.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Now Playing: Stoner and Spaz II

Now Playing: Stoner and Spaz II  by Ron Koertge

Colleen and Ben are back: a few months older, and only slightly wiser than they were in the first book, Stoner and Spaz.

Ben's documentary has gained him a little bit of local fame, and he is taking film-making a littler more seriously now. Colleen has been flirting with sobriety. 


Cinder  by Marissa Meyer
In this re-told story with a sci-fi twist, Cinder is a teenaged cyborg with two stepsisters and a stepmother who hates the "subhuman" left in her care.  While working as an android mechanic in the public market, Cinder meets up with the charming Prince Kai, who invites her to the fancy ball being held in his honor...but Cinder knows that her stepmother will never allow her to attend.

Fairy tale elements are artfully re-cast, with the story returned to its original Chinese roots;  however, futuristic New Beijing is very different from the ancient city.  The fairy godmother is a household droid with a "defective" personality; the pumpkin coach is an ugly vintage motorcar (one suspects an orange VW Bug!), and the glass slipper is a too-small cyborg foot that doesn't attach securely enough to Cinder's artificial leg.   The plot is relatively predictable, but the ending is a cliff-hanger that will be continued in the second part of the projected 4-volume series.

Recommended for readers who enjoy folktale retellings, romance, and futuristic societies, ages 12 to adult.  No cussing, nekkidness, or excessive violence.  There is (of course!) a kiss.  Pair this with A Long, Long Sleep, which is another retold-in-the-future fairy tale.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Purity  by Jackson Pearce
Just before 10-year-old Shelby's mom died, she made Shelby promise three things:  to love and listen to her father.  To love as much as possible.  And to live without restraint. 

Now Shelby is 16, and her father has asked Shelby to join him in attending the Princess Ball, an annual father-daughter event that culminates with the girls taking a vow of purity.  Shelby panics at the thought of a conflict between Promise One and Promise Three--how can she live an unrestrained life if she vows to live a pure life?

Aided by her friends, Shelby tries to exploit a loophole in the process by losing her virginity before taking the purity vow...but she has mixed feelings. 

Although the plot sounds fluffy, this story is filled with great characters.  I laughed frequently, and needed a hanky for the final chapter.  Purity is a quick, fun read, recommended for readers ages 14 and up.

On-page but non-graphic sex; no cussing, no blood, no violence, some under-age drinking.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy  by Robin LaFevers
The daughter of Death is determined to serve matter what happens.

The year is 1485, and young Ismae is rescued from a potentially brutal marriage by a local hedgewitch, who recognizes the terrible scars on the girl's back as a mark of her true parentage:  her father is Mortain, the god of death.  Spirited away across Brittany, Ismae ends up at the convent of Saint Mortain, where she is instructed by nuns in the skills needed to serve their god:  poisoning, fighting with swords, knives and crossbows, as well as the miscellaneous useful skills for assassins and spies, tactfully referred to as the "womanly arts."

Leaving the convent for the first time as a trained killer, Ismae's assignment is to journey in the disguise of "cousin" (mistress) with handsome Gavriel Duval to the castle of the young Dutchess of Brittany, and kill whoever needs to be killed in order to protect and support the dutchess.  Sometimes the killing is quick and ruthless; occasionally, it is an act of kindness.  But when the order comes for Ismae to kill Duval, she looks beyond her convent education for answers.

An engaging narrative voice and colorful world-building turn a predictable plot into an exciting tale of romance and intrigue.  The book is first in a trilogy, but stands alone well.  No cussing and limited gore;  contains violence and references to lusty situations, but the sex occurs off-page and late in the book.  References to "old gods" masquerading as "modern saints" may bother some readers.

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult who enjoy historical and supernatural romances with strong female characters. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Don't Let Me Go

Don’t let me go  by J.H. Trumble

Nate and Adam believe their relationship is forever.  

Adam is graduating from high school and moving to New York to begin an acting career.  Nate has said he “needs to know who I am without you," but the year is much harder than he imagined without Adam.  

Last year they came out to their parents, the school, and the world.  Last year, Nate had Adam by his side.  Now, entering his senior year, he is not sure if he is strong enough alone.  His best friend Lucy is still there to help, and Danial, a new student from Pakistan, befriends him as well, especially when Nate Skypes Adam only to find a topless roommate cavorting around and kissing Adam.  

The plot moves back and forth across time from the present, to various times in the past.  This can be disconcerting for the reader, but in this case it works.  Slowly we are fed bits to understand Nate and Adam’s relationship, Danial’s almost too-perfect friendship, and Nate’s physical and sexual assault at the hands of some high school bullies.  Family relationships, friendships and even sexual activities are brought out through the ensuing court trial as the book skips back and forth in time.  For the reader, the story in bits and pieces is much easier to absorb, and better for deeply understanding relationships and the horror of the assault.  The focus is always the present though, and how Nate will cope this year, especially with Matthew, a gay student who is attracted to Nate, but is unwilling to take the step toward coming out.  

The almost too-perfect Danial nearly drags the story down, except we find that we are all cheering for him, and want a Danial in our schools.  

Recommended for readers ages 15 and up; graphic sexual situations; some violence.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tale of Two Summers

Tale of Two Summers  by Brian Sloan

Hal and Chuck have been best friends for 10 years.  The summer before their junior year in high school, they spend the summer apart.  Hal wants to continue their friendship over the phone and through emails,  but Chuck sets up a blog to which they both contribute.  Thus begins the two summers of two very different guys:  Hal, bored in their small town of Wheaton, MD: about to enter driver’s ed, and gay.  Chuck, entering drama summer camp: excited, and straight.  Both looking for a summer romance, and sex in particular.

The blog is not just clever and funny; it gives each of them the opportunity to say things they might not say otherwise.  The anonymity of the computer allows them to talk about issues that bother them that a sixteen-year-old might not feel free to discuss face-to-face.  In the process, they teach us, the reader, about gay issues in a very readable, witty, format.  That said, the two seem more adult than most sixteen-year-olds.  Then they become the "as a mother, I'd like to knock you over your hormonal head" kind of guys. 

When Hal finds “the love of his life,” he is willing to forgive the marijuana, the illegal activities and the sexually reluctant behavior of Henri, newly arrived from France.  The scenes where they enter into a sexual relationship are very explicit, but tastefully done. In the meantime, Chuck has fallen in love at acting camp, although the girl seems to like their young director much more.  Chuck’s roommate at summer drama camp is gay, and readers experience a different gay perspective from him.  

This book addresses both the myths and realities of gay reactions and sex in a way that straight and gay teens will understand. At times, the novel feels like a vehicle to educate the public on gay issues.   Perhaps it is, but we forgive the author because these two are just great characters.  While all the characters are more than one-dimensional, the relationship between Hal and Chuck is the best part of the book, and you just have to cheer for them to make their own relationship work.

Lots of cussing, drug and alcohol abuse, body parts, sexually explicit scenes.

Crazy in Love

Crazy in Love  by Dandi Daley MacKall

Mary Jane enters her senior year of high school having just been at a party where she flirted, with reciprocation.  The trouble is that Jackson is dating the popular and gorgeous Star.  

Her entire girl posse breaks into two factions:  those who would like to support her, and those who are definitely upset at the breach.  Mary Jane also hears two very distinct voices in her head telling her opposite
directions:  Plain Jane, who wants her to be the “good girl” and M.J., the sexy alternative. Mary Jane and her two best friends, now both in college, have taken a vow of chastity before marriage.  Her friend Alicia is now having sex with her college boyfriend; Red is not, because her boyfriend believes in God.

The banter between the voices is funny and witty.  The obvious, hit-you-over-the-head moral is not:  all girls who have sex before marriage will live in utter disappointment; all girls who remain chaste will be happy.  The book is witty and funny.  Mary Jane could have made the same decision without bringing in the God-talk and the obvious conclusion that breaking the chastity vow ruins your life.  The overt preaching ruins it.

No cussing, lots of kissing,  off-page sex.  Not recommended.


Divergent  by Veronica Roth

Beatrice and Caleb are both turning sixteen, which is the year they must choose among the factions:  Abnegation (living for others,denying yourself); Candor (always telling the truth); Erudite (learning and research);  Amity  (understanding for others and yourself); and Dauntless (fearless action and fighting).

Now they are living in Abnegation, but the test they take will tell them what qualities they have that will induce them into the faction path.  In this dystopian society in torn apart and deserted Chicago, you don’t have to choose the faction where the test points, but Beatrice is shocked to learn that she is a Divergent: she has qualities of several of the factions instead of a single one.  To be known as Divergent is dangerous; the condition must be kept hidden.

Beatrice ultimately chooses Dauntless; Caleb chooses Erudite.  This is Beatrice’s story.  She learns to jump off moving trains, fall into a net six stories down; fight in many combat situations; and overcome both prejudice and years of training in Abnegation.  Only ten initiates will survive; the others will be left Factionless and homeless...or dead. Tris meets Four, who is two years older and is alternately enticing and irritating. There is also something sinister edging its way into the novel:  the Dauntless faction is becoming more focused on anger and cruelty, and someone is trying destroy all Divergents.

The characters of Beatrice and Four are central to the novel; all others are pretty one-dimensional.  This is a trilogy, so perhaps more attention will be given to others as the story develops.  It is an enjoyable and fast-paced novel, full of action and surprise.  At times it seems pretty derivative:  there are lots of aspects of The Hunger Games and the romance between Beatrice and Four builds and falls in a pretty standard pattern.

There are also several holes left in the story:  What is the world like outside Chicago?  Who runs the trains and do they ever stop anywhere?

Some kissing; lots of longing, off-page intimacy.  
This is Mary Jo's review.  To read Aarene's review of this book, click HERE.

The Mis-Education of Cameron Post

The Mis-education of Cameron Post  by Emily Danforth

Cameron is 12 when her parents die in an automobile accident.  She is already feeling guilty about kissing her best friend Irene.  In fact, "guilty" would be a word to describe how Cameron feels about her yearnings for girls in general--and her guilt becomes stronger still when Aunt Ruth comes to take care of her, and introduces Cammie to conservative Christianity.  

Several loves enter and exit Cammie’s life as she is trying to understand who she is and who she loves, or shouldn’t, love.  At age fifteen, Cammie develops a relationship with Coley, also from the church, but when Aunt Ruth finds out, Cammie is sent to  “God’s Promise, a school affiliated with the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality.  

Cameron is a very likeable and well-drawn character, as are most of the characters in the book.  Cameron’s story is compelling  and personal , giving it an autobiographical feel.  Chapters about young Cameron (age 9) could be a problem for some readers.  While those chapters have a great impact on Cameron’s life and awakening sexuality, it takes a mature reader to understand that.  The story also takes place in the 1990s, which has an historical impact on the Christian School and Center for Healing ( brochure pictured in the book. )  This is a hefty tome, but well worth reading.

Cussing, drug use, sexual situations.  Recommended for readers ages 14 and up.


Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith

The 3rd book in the “Tantalize” series returns to Quincie’s story, after taking a wrong turn in the second book, Eternal.

Quincie has struck a bargain with Brad (“the Impaler”) Sanguini, who had turned her into a vampire:  she will suck Kieren’s blood, but  stop in time.  If she does this, Brad will leave.  And although this did happen, Brad is still inside her mind.  Quincie goes to live with Kieren's parents when he leaves to futher his werewolf education, but people pop into her life to help her. In particular Zachary- the guardian angel from Eternal-  arrives to be Quincie's Guardian Angel in an attempt to save her immortal soul.  This is still possible, because she IS only a neophyte.  Remember Quincie P. Morris from Stoker’s Dracula?   There is now great interplay with that original Dracula, as Brad is slowly becoming that “Dracula Prime.”  

Coincidentally, anyone who ate the “baby squirrel” dish from Tantalize has also been “blessed,” and will turn into a vampire in 3 weeks.  Quincie now has to save those folks as well.

This is the “Bella/Jacob” relationship that fans of Twilight wanted, featuring Quincie as a much stronger heroine who still has problems fighting the thrall of Brad.  Clyde, the were-possum, returns to this book as its semi-hero.   Overall the story is improbable, but great fun.  At times pretty gruesome (these are still vampires)  Welcome back, Quincie!

Recommended for readers age 13 and up; kissing, grinding, allusions to sex, but no body-parts on the page.
A Million Suns  by Beth Revis

This sequel to Across the Universe, continues the saga of Godspeed, the ship carrying 2000 people and 300 earthlings in suspended animation to Centauri-Earth.

At the end of the first book, Elder and Amy had just defeated Eldest, the clone who was the leader of the ship, and learned that they were not going to land at all and had, in fact, been in space for centuries already.  We now take a dramatic turn again, with new findings that threaten everyone’s life.  Orion, now in suspended animation himself, has left Amy clues about the new reality of the ship, urging her, as both an earthling and shipmate, to make the right decision as a result of her findings.  16-year-old Elder is having immense problems ruling the ship, with hourly information that makes good decisions critical.  The people, now without the phydus drug that kept them cooperative-but-mindless, are now in rebellion.  Murders keep happening.  The clues left by Orion for this critical time are an odd plot device for this novel, but do keep the reader interested, as any mystery would.  There seems to be little character development in either Elder or Amy, who appear to have learned no lessons from Across the Universe, and their romance seems to be on hold.  

There is a planned 3rd novel; perhaps it will return to the style and excitement of Across the Universe.

Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult; contains  kissing and an off-screen rape.


Insurgent  by Veronica Roth

In this second of the trilogy, the dystopia that was Chicago moves closer to an inevitable war. 

Picking up where Divergent left off, Roth explains little of the first story, making it imperative that they are read in order.  After escaping from the simulation-controlled factions, Tris, Tobias, Marcus, Caleb, and Peter all head toward Erudite headquarters to both make sense of what has happened and to plan for the future.  There are many twists awaiting them, including the Factionless, now ready to join the inevitable war, secrets held by Marcus, and in the center, the mystery of the Divergents themselves.

Tris is still the steady, unrestrained heroine, now so torn after killing her best friend Will, that she cannot hold or fire a gun.  Her romance with Tobias is so much like the roller coaster at Riverside Park, we are reminded that she is, after all, a sixteen-year-old girl. 

We race to the end so fast, we forgive the gaping holes in the story.  For example, if Jeanine knew the "truth," why was she so anxious to destroy the Divergents?  This middle story of the trilogy gives us much more than a bridge to the third.  It is an exciting ride on it's own and leaves us wanting the final thought-provoking episode.

Heavy kissing, off-stage sex.  Recommended for readers ages 13 to adult.  (mjh)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Photos from Sex in the Library at Einstein Middle School

Mary Jo: home from India,
and talking about Sex in the Library again!

Aarene: showing off the Mission Statement cue card

Sex-in-the-Library virgin no more:  
Anne has a Mission Statement cue card of her own!

Talking about books:  The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

CAUTION: SITL books on display
Biggify the photo to see the covers clearly.